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Parents Can Protect Their Children From Drugs

Parents Can Protect Their Children From Drug Related Harm

I write in response to the NZ Herald Article “Heads call for help on drugs problem” [ Oct 7 2004 ]

Over the last few decades we have carefully peeled back boundaries and liberalized laws that have traditionally protected children and family. Laws such as the lowering of the minimum legal age of purchase of alcohol (more colloquially known as the ‘drinking age’) to 18 and the legalizing of prostitution. We are now silent about what we once used to be outraged about – abortion, child abuse, the loss of virginity of our youth and the abuse of their bodies through drugs and alcohol.

Over the last few months coroners, doctors, police and drug and alcohol related organizations have continued to speak out about the harm drug and alcohol abuse is doing to the young people of our country. In June, Tauranga Coroner Michael Cooney warned of the link between cannabis and suicide as he said that “virtually all” of the 13 suicides dealt with at his court this year involved cannabis use. He warned that we need to be very cautious before we liberalise laws further. In August, Alcohol Health Watch released their research of alcohol related injury hospitalizations from 1997 – 2002, showing an 87% increase in the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions for 10-14 year olds in the previous 2 years - of those nearly 80% were for alcohol poisoning. Williams called for policy-makers to take a good hard look at the effects of the current alcohol environment, including the lowered purchase age, on the children of this country. The issue of drug and alcohol abuse was high lighted again this week as Wellington Coroner Garry Evans continued an inquest into the deaths of 6 people who died after sniffing solvents. In his opening address in early September Evans warned substance abuse was an ‘insidious evil’ and a scourge on society of similar proportions to domestic violence and warned that society needed to know the effects and extent of damage that of drug- taking and substance abuse on the developing minds and growing bodies of our children.

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Our children navigate a dangerous world today. Most parents acknowledge that drug experimentation by teens is risky and can lead to serious trouble and yet research shows that parents are bound by helplessness, despair and fear as they look at the enormity – the growing enormity of the problem.

One of the key factors identified as putting children at risk of drug and alcohol abuse is Parental Pessimism. Many parents view teenage drug use as a fait accompli .And then there is denial or ‘turning a blind eye’. In April 2003 our NZ Medical journal wrote that there is evidence that parents are often blissfully unaware of the kinds of behaviour their young people are up to. This was backed up by research from our Liquor Advisory Council, in the Way We Drink survey released in March this year. Many parents seem to believe that their teens are immune from risk increasing factors that seem to affect other teens and therefore sometimes miss the warning signs.

As a society we can ask for more help and education for our children when it comes to drug and alcohol abuse but the bottom line is that families have the most important influence on young peoples lives and they need to be strengthened. It is in the family that children absorb manners, respect, values and faith and they need and want to hear from their parents on issues that will affect them as they navigate their teenage years, such as drugs, alcohol and sex.

Extensive research shows that parents can effectively influence their children’s choices in relation to drug use and that children rise to the expectations of adults who love and care for them – that “What would mum or dad think?” is a major protective factor when it comes to whether a young person would become involved in a risky situation.

Parenting is a responsibility and should be a priority.

It vital that families are not in denial believing that this problem is affecting some other community and that they recognize that their children are at risk during their teenage years and that they need to talk them about their needs, concerns issues and about the challenges they face on a day to day basis. Experts also ask parents to examine their own behaviour. To consider what example they are setting and what unintentional messages they are sending their children when they come home drunk or regularly reach for a glass of wine or drugs when they are under pressure or stressed. Another important aspect to parental responsibility is the supplying of alcohol to minors. The 2004 ALAC report the Way We Drink showed that 86% of young people who were described as young uncontrolled binge drinkers had received alcohol from adults in the previous six months.

Parents need to be reminded of the dangers of giving their young people RTDs (alcoholic soft drinks) and bottles of vodka; that it is illegal to supply other peoples children with alcohol and that there is drinking age for a reason.

So where to from here? A community response is required. It’s only through communities working together – families, schools, churches and community organisations that we are going to effectively combat teen drug abuse and the misuse and abuse of alcohol. A child is protected with in their communities, not just by their relationships with their own family but by their relationship with their peers, teachers, sports coaches and youth group leaders. As parents accept responsibility for their children – as they nurture, strengthen, protect, guide and encourage them as a family - but also collectively as a community – they will provide a strong foundation for their passage through their teenage years into young adulthood.

Jennie Milne



Focus on the Family NZ

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